Flashback: Picking the Right Fights

In anticipation of the shutdown of Apple’s MobileMe service, I am re-posting some of my old blog entries before they become harder to retrieve.

This entry was originally posted on March 20, 2005.

Please note that the link to King Features Syndicates page for the Mark Trail comic strip no longer works. Instead, use this link instead.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I love reading the comics. My local newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer , carries a pretty good number of my favorites. I’ve started to read a few comics that are only available online, such as the witty SinFest , or the twisted Chopping Block .

In my taste of comics, one comic strip stands alone. It is the only “soap opera”-type strip that I read. (By this I mean that its ongoing runs are just continuations of a story that began a while back, and, although intended as entertainment, it does not rely on humor to get the reader to come back. And I wish the Inquirer carried it.

But the Inquirer doesn’t carry Mark Trail , the story of a nature photographer and his friends, who always find ways of getting into trouble, and teaching about respect for nature. So I read it online. If you clicked on the link to this comic strip, you would have been taken to the web page set up for this strip by King Features Syndicates , the publishing company that runs this strip and numerous others.

This isn’t a complaint about King Features, but it bears mentioning that if you read one of their comics in your local newspaper today, and then go to see that strip online, you will have to wait exactly two weeks.

So to me, the story line I want to write about from Mark Trail ended this past week. In print, it ended two weeks ago. However long ago you read it, I need to talk about it.

Mark, his wife, and two friends went on a fishing trip on the friend’s yacht. They had two adventures on this yacht, but I want to focus on the second one. Mark and crew learn about a local woman who tends to sick animals, and her husband, a taxidermist. Mark goes to her to interview her for his magazine, while his wife goes to the taxidermist to stuff a fish that she had caught.

What they didn’t realize is that the respected-by-the-community folks they have visited are also running a drug smuggling business on the side. Mark learned about it when his wife came home with a strange powder on her shoe, and then learned that his wife had been given the wrong stuffed fish (she got one filled with cocaine.) When Mark went to confront them about it, they hit him over the head and tried to throw him to the sharks. Of course, he made it to safety and turned them in.

When someone does something that they know to be criminal, they resort to increasingly desperate measures in hopes of not getting caught. That’s what happened in this fictitious story line.

I was more troubled by the fact that the way the laws are written, these two otherwise respectable pillars of their local community were shamed and disgraced by virtue of the fact that they were doing something that, although legally wrong, I am not so confident that it was morally wrong. (I’m talking about the possession and sale of the drugs and not the attempted murder of Mark Trail, here…)

Illegal drugs are a ten-billion-dollar-a-year industry. I am not convinced that we are served by having a system where you can go to jail for ten years simply for possession of the marijuana or cocaine. Not when there are other drugs that are potentially more dangerous that are perfectly legal. (And I don’t just mean alcohol and cigarettes here, either. Aspirin wears away your stomach lining; kids buy cold medicines to get high; butane lighters aren’t the stablest substances in the world, the list goes on…)

I am not an advocate of banning cigarettes and alcohol. I just don’t understand why we single them out for being legal, when marijuana, cocaine, and heroin could have more legitimate medical uses. Marijuana apparently is good for both easing the pain of some cancers and AIDS, and for treating glaucoma. I can speak from firsthand experience that cocaine is an excellent coagulant and can be used in times when there is a hemorrhage. And Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain once said that heroin was the only thing he could find that would ease the pain of his congenital stomach problems. I believe him.

$10 billion a year. I don’t think any government, non-military agency gets that much in a given year. And that’s a conservative estimate, too. I would love to see a politician brave enough to suggest that maybe, just maybe, if any illegal industry brings in more than X number of dollars in revenue, then we should at least consider legalizing it, taxing it, and imposing government safety standards. I don’t know how many illegal industries should exceed X, but there is little doubt that both illegal drugs and prostitution are two that would.

The positives far outweigh the negatives. Increased tax revenue, safety standards, and a general drop in ancillary crime that is committed in order to continue doing those things. Less overcrowding in our prisons. The negatives stem from those people who stand to lose the most from legalization: law enforcement, jail wardens, and, of course, the criminals themselves. (Nobody wants to compete with the government on something like this…)

A lot of people say that drugs and prostitution are immoral. Perhaps, but if you feel that way, don’t participate in them. Lot’s of things are immoral, but that doesn’t make them illegal.

Let’s rid ourselves of the albatross around our necks, which is the lingering effects of Prohibition…..

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